Interview with Christoph Schöllhammer: “Halal is a way of life”

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Christoph Schöllhammer. Project manager Halal Hannover. (Photo: Deutsche Messe AG)

“Halal Hannover” was postponed to March 2021 due to corona. Project manager Christoph Schöllhammer about trade fair preparations in the pandemic, the German halal market and hybrid events.

 Mr. Schöllhammer, you had to postpone the Halal Hannover because of the Corona pandemic. How will the global industry meeting next year present itself to visitors?
During the lockdown, people have had a lot of experience with digital media and video conferencing – and I think that all the more reason to meet in person again. And trade fairs are simply a perfect place to meet. And they are meeting places for suppliers and customers. Our preparations for the Halal Hannover in March 2021 are in full swing. We are planning on the basis of a safety and hygiene concept that we have agreed with the health authorities – and this makes our event Corona-safe – but it must also be said that nobody knows what the situation will be like in six months time.

You are currently talking to potential exhibitors. How many exhibitors would you like to attract for next year? 
We are in an intensive exchange with the companies. The exhibitors who registered for this year are still very willing to support the fair. If we win 50 to 60 exhibitors for the Halal Hannover 2021, this would be a super result for a first event. We want to get the ball rolling with the fair and then establish ourselves on the market.

Recently a number of events have been staged as hybrid events, either on site or digitally. Are you planning to do that too?
This is a new trend, but it is also perceived with mixed feelings. There are industries for which digital events are well suited. For example, they are an excellent tool for knowledge transfer. I am in conversation with the Dubai Islamic Economy Development Center, DIEDC. They wanted to organise international round table discussions at the fair this year. These will now take place in March 2021. The DIEDC prefers a physical event. They want to meet and exchange ideas with people. We are not currently thinking about a hybrid format either. Nevertheless, the situation may change due to corona. I think that we will only decide in December whether we will do a hybrid event or not. The advantage is that we have built the H’Up in Hall 18, a hall in which top-class hybrid events are possible. We could use it immediately.

What is the safety and hygiene concept for the Halal fair?
We at Deutsche Messe AG have drawn up a hygiene concept, which, as I said, we have agreed with the authorities. The concept has various facets, such as hall capacity, aisle width, number of visitors, and access control. Meeting these corona safety standards is no problem for us. We have the necessary hall capacities. We can also benefit from the experience of other face-to-face events which take place on our premises.

This year, Halal Hannover should take place in a hall. So could it be possible that you could accommodate the fair in more halls?
Yes, depending on how many exhibitors we have, we could also use two halls for the fair.

At the moment it is not clear whether exhibitors and visitors from abroad can travel to Germany without restrictions. How can you support these people?
Due to globalisation, trade fairs have become increasingly international. The trade fair business is a well-functioning clockwork. The gears must mesh. At the moment, one or the other cogwheel does not work. We are also curious to see how things will continue with Corona. Nevertheless, we are noticing a trend. Our Chinese subsidiary recently held a car show in Chengdu. Despite Corona, more than 800,000 people visited this show. With an increase of 11 percent compared to a corona-free previous year. We are noticing that people want to meet again. They want to look at innovations. They want to see how the world is changing. Yesterday I had a phone call with a Sudanese company. I told the company that they should support Halal Hannover as an exhibitor. But even we cannot do anything against possible travel restrictions and conditions. If there should be another postponement, there will of course be no costs for the exhibitors.

The fair is open to trade visitors and the public. Why should consumers come to Hannover?
We offer an overview of the complete halal world. We show products and services from the areas of food, fashion, cosmetics, finance and travel. The consumer can exchange ideas with the entire halal community at the exhibition and the accompanying conference.

What will the entrance fee be? 
We are for a fair price structure and offer weekend tickets. I think that the tickets will not cost more than 10 Euros.

Halal is a billion-dollar market globally. However, German food retailers offer little selection of halal products and the industry does not have enough halal food for the German market. Isn’t that a paradox?
When we look at the German halal market, we are talking about two different markets. One is the domestic market and the other the export market. Let’s start with the internal market. There are 83 million people living in Germany. A great many of these people already eat a healthy diet. They pay attention to regionality, organic quality and vegan food. And there is still halal, which stands for authorised products. Halal is a seal of quality and also has a positioning advantage: Halal does not only stand for healthy food, it is an attitude to life. It is about doing something good in life. Therefore I think that of the 83 million inhabitants of Germany many live in a halal-conform way. With regard to the German export market, halal certifications play an extremely important role. Without valid certification, companies cannot export to regions such as the Middle East or South-East Asia.

They talk to retailers and the food industry every day. What do they tell you why there are so few halal products in Germany?
Many people associate the term halal exclusively with a special form of slaughter. This is not comprehensible to me, because in Germany this form is only possible in very few exceptional cases. But that is not part of the fair either. Rather, it is about the holistic presentation of different product segments such as food, finance or travel.

What impulses do you expect for Germany and Europe after Halal Hannover?
I hope that we will develop into the leading European trade fair for halal. In this way, we will certainly also do a certain amount of educational work, which is important in this field due to many prejudices.

What is your economic goal for the industry fair?
We want to take a first step with Halal Hannover, and the fair should grow in perspective. We believe that there is a market for halal products – and therefore the market and the need for a corresponding trade fair platform. The discussions with the industry inspire us and support our thesis.

Hannover’s Lord Mayor Belit Onay should open the trade fair this year. Have you also received a commitment from him for 2021?
The Lord Mayor is currently the Chairman of the Supervisory Board of Deutsche Messe AG. We are confident that we can win him as a speaker for next year as well.

Interview: Kemal Çalık